Sunday, 25 August 2013

10. The Bafflement of Mademoiselle Dupont

THE GREAT TAMASHA COOKBOOK AND FAMILY
HISTORY
10


The Bafflement of Mademoiselle Dupont

Miss MacDonnell’s Delightful Seedy Biscuits

SeedyBiscuitsBKGRDFRAMED.jpg
Wax your trays and if the biscuits to be rolled, have ready a wooden spoon. Against your whole eggs take the same weight of eggs of cleaned sugar, 3 will do for a small batch, and two thirds of fine white flour. Cream all together well. Add a few drops of saunf [aniseed] water if to hand. Spoon out in circles on yr. waxed trays and sprinkle with anise seeds*. Bake in a low oven until pale gold. If desired, roll over the handle of the wooden spoon. Work fast while still hot.
* Miss MacDonnell's recipe uses aniseed because this is readily obtainable in India. Caraway seeds might be used instead. -Cassie Babbage.

From the unfinished MS., circa 1899: Our India Days
Chapter 10: Darjeeling Days (Continued)
    As the Darjeeling season wore on, the weather hotted up and the hills dried out to shades of fawn and dull brown, Miss MacDonnell’s little bungalow, well-known amongst the habitués of the pretty little hill station for its gigantic deodar tree which enveloped her front verandah and, indeed, the whole of her small front lawn in the most deliciously drenching icy shade,  received increasing numbers of visitors.
 
"Bungalows amidst the deodars at the hill station"
Photograph, circa 1880?
Courtesy of Miss Thomas
    Major Mason dropped into a sagging basket chair on the verandah with a sigh of relief. “That’s better! –Thank you, Ashok,” he said as a bowing bearer proffered a glass of nimboo panee. “Well, ma’am,” he said to his hostess, “I can reliably report it’s a selection of widows. What is it about the hills that attracts not only your India widow but also your English widow with the reliability of the goat meat stall in the bazaar attractin’ flies?”
     Predictably, Miss MacDonnell squeaked, and held up her hands in protest, and told him that was not nice, dear Major Mason, and giggled delightedly—all in a breath.
     “It’s the climate, I think, Major Mason!” offered Violet Allardyce, also giggling.
     “Oh, is it?” he said in astonishment.
  Predictably, Violet, Miss MacDonnell, Miss Martinmass, Mr Viccy Truesdale and Mr Sebastian Whyte all collapsed in giggles.
     “What sort of widows?” asked Tiddy.
     “Well, India and English, my dear Miss Tiddy,” he explained politely.
    More giggles from the company, whilst Ashok circulated with more nimboo panee, and, since Miss Martinmass’s formidable parent was not present, Miss MacDonnell’s famous little seedy biscuits.
    “No, well,” the Major added: “they was all holding parasols, or had fellows holding parasols over ’em, and then with the dust, they all had veils on their bonnets—”
    “Up at the plantation? What dust?” demanded Tiddy suspiciously.
    “Hey? Oh—Lor’, no, you mistake, Miss Tiddy. I did not trail all the way up there. No, met them at Long Reach Villa, for tiffin.
    “General Hay’s villa is known for its smothering dust!” squeaked the plump, elegant Mr Sebastian Whyte suddenly, collapsing in giggles again.
    The Major grinned tolerantly. “Quite. Well, such was the complaint, I do assure you, and as we inspected the General’s roses, the veils was all lowered.”
    “Stop teasing, you naughty man,” commanded Miss MacDonnell, shaking a bony finger at him, “and tell us at once who they are and what they are like.”
    Giving in, Major Mason admitted: “A Lady Cartwright, heard of her?”
    “General Hay’s sister. Her late husband was a Member of Parliament,” said Miss MacDonnell firmly.
    “Aye, that’ll be it: English widow.” Tiddy choked, and the Major’s eyes twinkled, but he went on smoothly enough: “A Mrs Morrison—no, I have it wrong. Mollison. Claims to be an old India hand. No?” There was general blankness and he added helpfully: “Not young, laugh like a hyena? No, well, s’pose it could apply to any of a round dozen, aye. Got the impression Lady Cartwright couldn’t stand her, not sure if that were good or bad. Oh—claimed to know Mrs Allardyce: ring any bells, Miss Allardyce?”
    Violet admitting it did not, he continued: “Put her down as an India widow, then. A Mrs Fox. No E: I asked her,” he explained modestly. Viccy Truesdale and Tiddy both choked. Grinning, Major Mason explained: “Well, better safe than sorry, y’know. English widow. Not politically connected—I asked her that, too. A Lady Armstrong and a Lady Caroline Armstrong. Sisters-in-law. Handsome pair, if not in the first blush. Both English widows.”
    “I am acquaint with a Hampshire family of the name: I wonder would it be they?” asked Mr Sebastian Whyte with interest.
    “No notion, Sebby, old man. Did your lot have a fellow called Sir George in ’em?”
    Regretfully Mr Sebastian Whyte conceded it could not be the same family—no.
    “That was Lady Armstrong’s husband, y’see. Lady Caroline was married to his brother. She was a Gratton-Gordon: do that ring any—”
    Apparently it did, for there was quite a clamour, which resolved itself into the decision that this Lady Caroline, if not in the first blush, must be a sister rather than a daughter of the present Marquis of Wade. Miss MacDonnell and Mr Sebastian Whyte remembering young Sub-Lieutenant Lord Vyvyan Gratton-Gordon, who had been with dear Colonel Wynton’s regiment for a short while, quite clearly: down to the lovely head of dark curls. And appearing equally gratified by the news that Lady Caroline was also dark.

"Lord Vyvyan Gratton-Gordon"
Oil on canvas, circa 1826, by Frederick Greenstreet
(Formerly in the collection of the Marquis of Wade)
Courtesy of the Maunsleigh Collection
    “That was it, was it?” Tiddy then asked kindly.
    “No need to take that tone, dear Miss Tiddy,” replied the robust Major, greatly injured. “Of course it were not: old Hay has a positive houseful. Um—forget where I was, actually.”
    Promptly Mr Sebastian Whyte listed the widows he had so far named.
    “Thanks, Sebby,” said Major Mason very weakly indeed. “Um, well, there was a Mrs Madge.”
    “Er—is that not a first name, dear Major Mason?” offered Miss MacDonnell dubiously.
    “Oh, is it? Well, dare say I have it wrong,” he said cheerfully.
    “Mrs Madge Something?” suggested Mr Viccy Truesdale helpfully.
    “Viccy, you imbecile, he is doing it to provoke!” cried Tiddy.
    Young Mr Truesdale subsided, grinning sheepishly.
    “Matcham!” produced the Major, unblushing. “Knew it was some name like Madge.”
     “Oh!” cried Violet. “Mrs Matcham! Why, she is a very old friend of Mamma’s!”
     “Oh, aye. India widow, then.”
    “Of course,” said Miss MacDonnell, shaking that bony finger at him again, “you naughty, naughty man! Why, she is one of the Carnacs!”
    “That so, ma’am? She is travelling with a friend, a Lady Anna Lovatt, would she be one of the anybodies?” he asked meekly.
     “Um, no-o,” said the maiden lady uncertainly.
    “Stop it, Major Mason,” ordered Tiddy severely. “She must be a something, if she is Lady Anna, clearly. So you had best tell us and get it over with.”
    “English widow—told you they was all widows, see? Um, well, think somebody mentioned Scotland in that connection. Though it might have been in relation to the husband, come to think of it. Um, no, hang on. Said she was a cousin of the MacInneses.”
    Miss MacDonnell gave a happy gasp. “That is Lord Ivo’s family, and of course dear General Hay’s own Mamma was a MacInnes!”
    “Oh, well, there you are, explains why they was tacked on to Lady Cartwright’s party; must say, I wondered, a bit. Er—well, don’t seem the type, really,” he said under the company’s concentrated stare. “No, well, Mrs Matcham told me she found tea the most borin’ beverage in the world, only two seconds after old Hay had finished telling us how successful Urqhart’s plantation was becomin’ and how interestin’ the visit had been.”
    Several persons choked. After which Miss MacDonnell asked wistfully: “I suppose dear Mr Urqhart was not there in person, was he?”
    “Not this time—would have made it better, though.” Several persons choked again, and the Major added kindly: “No, they tell me Timmy Urqhart’s wife prefers him to stay in England with her. Odd sort of woman she must be, hey?”
    “Stop that at once,” replied Miss MacDonnell severely. “You are too entirely dreadful. What on earth must the girls be thinking of you?”
    “That he is entirely dreadful,” responded Tiddy on a dry note. “Well, does this preponderance of widows indicate that the threatened ball at Long Reach Villa—what a misnomer, Long Reach Palace would be more like it—will not eventuate after all?”
    “Oh, Lor’, no, Miss Tiddy! None of ’em is here to mourn, y’know!”
    “Stop it now, Tom,” said Mr Sebastian Whyte with a laugh in his voice, “or you will go too far. Of course the ball is to be held, my dear Miss Angèle, and you will find that Long Reach Palace,” he added coyly, “is the pleasantest venue imaginable for such an event.”
    “Yes, for dear General Hay has the side verandah positively lined with punkah-wallahs!” added Miss MacDonnell.
       Mr Sebastian Whyte was driven to clear his throat. “Quite.”
    “But if they are all widowed ladies they won’t dance, though, will they?” ventured the misguided Viccy.
    Mr Whyte eyed him drily. “My dear boy, you have failed utterly to seize the essence of our delightful Darjeeling society. Out of course they will all dance.”
    “I see,” he conceded limply. “Um, in that case, Miss Tiddy and Miss Allardyce,” he added quickly, recovering, “might I book all the dances with you now?”
    “They would have to be country dances, if you wish to dance them all with the both of us,” retorted Tiddy while Violet was still giggling. “But I am afraid it would not be the done thing.”
    “Um, no,” he admitted, smiling uncertainly.
    “No: you must have half with Violet, and half with me!” concluded Tiddy cheerfully.
    Forthwith Mr Viccy collapsed into gales of giggles. Gasping through them: “I shall hold you to it, mind!”
    Mr Sebastian Whyte got up and wandered over to Major Mason’s basket chair. Very quietly he said in that gentleman’s ear: “Piqued, repiqued and capotted, I think, Tom?”
    “You’re right, there,” agreed Tom Mason, eyeing the laughing Tiddy ruefully.


    There now commenced the season of our poor dear Mlle Dupont’s bafflement—not an emotion to which she was accustomed. She was, of course, completely unaware that Miss Allardyce and Miss Angèle Lucas, to name but two, were entirely aware of it and entirely entertained by it. Mademoiselle could not determine at all which one it was, that Mrs Allardyce intended should distract Charlie Hatton! Of the crowd of widows visiting at Long Reach Villa, Mrs Allardyce seemed to be closely acquaint with at least half, and if these were not all in the first blush, they were not all completely over the hill, either. Eventually she gave in and asked her maddening hostess, but that lady just murmured serenely: “Wait and see.”
   There were certainly plenty of opportunities for observation, for the hill station was now crammed with the fashionable and not-quite-so-fashionable of Anglo-India, and there were picknicks and parties galore, not to mention the inevitable sessions, whether officially for tiffin or no, upon the verandahs.
    Mrs Carruthers and Mrs Doolittle had come up to Darjeeling together this year. They more often went to Patapore but they had made the effort to travel the two hundred miles or so this summer. Though Martha Carruthers and Catherine Doolittle were now safely off their hands, married to, respectively, that George Hilton of John Company and Frederick Dean of the wealthy and knowledgeable Papa who been their constant escorts back in the days of the Ma Maison verandah parties, Emily Carruthers, she who was a year Josie Lucas’s senior, and her friend Harriet Doolittle, a year her elder, were still unattached. The ladies had not rented a bungalow but were staying at the best of Darjeeling’s inns. The which, Mrs Carruthers now owned discontentedly, was a mistake, for it was full of noisy subalterns on leave and the families of minor officials of John Company and—and postal employees’ wives!

"Our hotel at the hill station"
Photograph, circa 1890.
Courtesy of Miss Thomas
    “One in particular,” noted Mrs Doolittle grimly, accepting a cup from the hand of Mrs Allardyce. “Thank you. –A Mrs Potter, the most encroaching creature who ever walked. She had the impertinence to inform us—without having been introduced, I may add—that she was closely acquaint with a Lady Carruthers living in Sussex, and was it a relation?”
    “Impertinence, indeed,” agreed Mrs Allardyce smoothly.
    “Was it a relation, dear Mrs Carruthers?” asked Mrs Georgina Matcham with a smile in her deep, velvety voice.
    “Certainly not! Horace comes from a well-respected Derbyshire family. And in my opinion, Mrs Matcham, the person exists only in Mrs Potter’s imagination, and not in Sussex at all!”
    Mrs Matcham smiled, the deep, glowing dark velvety eyes crinkling in the most entrancing of manners, and gave a little throaty gurgle.
    Miss Allardyce’s and Miss Angèle Lucas’s eyes met, as Mademoiselle’s face was seen to express considerable enlightenment at the entirely charming spectacle of Mrs Matcham’s wonderful glossy dark curls, lovely pink cheeks, and delightful, maturely beckoning curves—not to say at the spectacle of Mr Charlie Hatton, ostensibly present in attendance on Tiddy, giving one of those silly male laughs, the meanwhile looking at the gurgling visitor with blatant admiration writ large on his fair face. Mrs Matcham had been a widow for some years but was still well on the sunny side of forty. Clearly she must be Mrs Allardyce’s contender in the Charles Hatton Stakes!


     Mrs Mollison, the India widow described by Major Mason and reported faithfully at either first- or second-hand by more than one caller at the Allardyce House as being not young and possessed of a laugh like a hyena, was due to call, but Mademoiselle was not interested in the fact: manifestly it could not be she, old friend of Mrs Allardyce or not. She went out, therefore, to pay calls on Mrs Turner and Mrs Martinmass, returning in time to catch the noise from the side verandah. She went on out—
    She blinked. An unknown fair-haired lady of Junoesque appearance, draped, to boot, in something decidedly Grecian-looking, though probably of the best Madras silk, it certainly shimmered richly enough, was seated on the big swing seat that was a feature of the Allardyce House’s side verandah, surrounded, positively surrounded, by smiling gentlemen! Ranging in age from silly little Viccy Truesdale up to Major-General Harkness, who was most certainly old enough to know better! True, one of the admiring male heads was the fair one belonging to Charlie Hatton, but this could not possibly be she, the woman must be within half a dozen years of Mrs Allardyce’s own age.
    “What did you think of Mrs Mollison?” asked Tiddy baba meekly after the visitors’ departure.
    Mademoiselle frowned, and expressed a pithy condemnation of the confection on the head that was scarcely a bonnet, the whole notion of a get-up like a Greek goddess to take tiffin, and the unsuitable cut of that bodice for an afternoon gown.

"La Mollison, à la Grècque"
Sketch, pen & wash, from John Widdop's journal, circa 1829.
From the Widdop family papers
     “Yes, and she does have a strange laugh,” ventured Violet Allardyce meekly. “I suppose one could characterise it as that of a hyena.”
    Replying repressively: “I am not sure what a hyena is, Mlle Violette, but I am not sure, either, that a young lady should mention the point. But for myself, if I were forced to, I should characterise it, rather, as a bray,” Mademoiselle exited, very fortunately missing the spectacle of Miss Allardyce and Miss Angèle Lucas then flinging themselves face-down on two of Mrs Allardyce’s charming sofas and burying the giggles in the cushions...
    “I suppose it is not Mrs Mollison?” said Mademoiselle as Mrs Allardyce prepared to follow the girls upstairs that evening.
    Mrs Allardyce raised her eyebrows at her.
    “She is not even a Lady!” said Mlle Dupont crossly.
    “Er—I assure you— Oh!” she said with a trill of laughter that in its way was wholly as irritating as the bray. “No, Mrs Mollison has not a title, but then she does not need to, my dear: she was a Bon-Dutton. Her papa had the title,” she explained smoothly.
    “I have never heard of—”
    “Lord George Bon-Dutton. His papa, of course, was the Duke of Chelford. Well, my dear, I would not put it beyond her powers.”
    “It will never work!” she hissed. “She is much too old for him!”
    “I think he appeared as fascinated as any of them, though?” she smiled. “Well, we shall see. Do, pray, go before me, chère Mlle Dupont.”
    Baffled, Mademoiselle went upstairs, very fortunately just missing the spectacle of two new muslin party dresses whisking themselves out of sight round the bend in the stairs...


    Mrs Martinmass, Mrs Carruthers and Mrs Doolittle had got together and arranged a picknick. Possibly agreeing amongst themselves, given the facts of Miss Martinmass, Miss Carruthers and Miss Doolittle, not to invite the charming Mrs Matcham—no. Nor yet Mrs Mollison, of whom Mrs Carruthers’s expressed opinion was: “A walking man-trap, my dear Mlle Dupont, and shameless with it. I know not how dear Mrs Allardyce supports her company. And I have it on unimpeachable authority that she smokes a cigarillo after dinner like a man. On poor General Hay’s own balcony!”
    Lady Armstrong and Lady Caroline Armstrong, however, were permitted to come, possibly on account of a meek little Miss Armstrong, not mentioned by Major Mason as forming one of the house party at Long Reach Villa, perhaps because he had overlooked her. She was, admittedly, that sort of girl. Lady Armstrong turned out to be a pleasant, vaguely pretty, vaguely smiling person of quite sufficient years to have a daughter of Miss Armstrong’s age or, for that matter, a son of Charlie Hatton’s, and so was clearly not she. The more so since she was completely matronly in manner.
    Lady Caroline Armstrong, née Gratton-Gordon, however, was quite a different kettle of fish, and long before the picknick was over it was evident that Mademoiselle was possessed of the conviction that it must be she. The dark curls were even glossier than Mrs Matcham’s, the cheeks just as pink, the smile even more beckoning, and the age very much closer to Mr Hatton’s.

"Lady Caroline Armstrong, upon the occasion
of her engagement to Sir Michael Trandor, K.C.M.G."
Oil on canvas, 1832, by Frederick Greenstreet.
(Formerly in the Trandor Collection)
Courtesy of the Maunsleigh Collection
    She professed herself entranced to learn that some of the Darjeeling ladies had known her nephew, Lord Vyvyan, and explained, laughing very much, that of course, they were almost the same age, and it was absurd to think of “darling Vyv” as one’s nephew! Unasked, she revealed that her eldest brother, Wade, was the stuffiest of old fogies and she had barely set eyes on him since marrying “poor darling Jimmy”—the late Mr Armstrong, one presumed. Lady Caroline had a very caressing manner—and in fact it was not confined to manner: she was given to extraneous little pats and strokes as she addressed one. Apparently unaware that it was not quite the done thing to pat a gentleman’s hand or stroke his arm as one spoke to him. Especially on first acquaintance. Charlie Hatton seemed very struck indeed and Viccy Truesdale, to judge by the glowing cheeks and the inability to utter more than stutters in the presence, was completely overcome.
    So it must be she who was intended to distract Charlie Hatton from Tiddy’s fortune! Though, oddly, Mrs Allardyce did not seem to have any previous acquaintance with her. But they certainly had friends in common, so… Well, judging by the way she managed to winkle Mr Charlie out of the company of the other ladies and take him off to inspect a little stream, it was certainly she. Mademoiselle observed Tiddy narrowly during the winkling and the subsequent failure of the pair to reappear for quite some time, unaware, poor little lady, that she in her turn was being observed. Obligingly Tiddy encouraged Major Mason to overstep the line, quite sure that Mademoiselle would conclude that she was doing it to show Mr Charlie that what was sauce for the goose was sauce for the gander.
    Whether as a result of this stratagem or not, Charlie rode back beside the Allardyce House barouche. Mlle Dupont was clearly very puzzled at Mrs Allardyce’s saying cheerfully in front of him, in response to Violet’s admiring the simplicity of Lady Caroline Armstrong’s gown: “Well, my dear, Lady Caroline does not have very much, for her husband was a younger son. And then, you see, though she speaks so lightly of her brother Wade, in fact the family is said to have been quite horrid to her when she married. And there is no doubt that Jimmy Armstrong was a gambler who ran through every penny of her dowry in the first year of marriage. I dare swear she is come out to catch one of our nice India officers, like all the English Misses! But of course you are right, my dear: that gown was charming in its simplicity: she most certainly knows how to make the best of what she has.”
    Poor Mlle Dupont spent the remainder of the journey home in what was very evidently a baffled silence.


    “General Porton does not often hold a dinner, so one is very flattered to be invited,” explained Mrs Allardyce solemnly, a day or two later.
      “Why is he holding this one, ma’am?” asked Tiddy suspiciously.
    Those lovely violet eyes twinkled. “Well, my dear, one is not absolutely sure, but one suspects it is to impress General Hay and his sister with his consequence.”
    “But Mamma, General Porton is retired from his army career,” said her daughter, very puzzled. “Surely General Hay’s opinion can no longer signify to him?”
    “Nevertheless,” she said serenely.
    At this Tiddy went into a helpless giggling fit, emerging from it to mop her eyes and admit: “It is all like that! Just enjoy it for what it is, Violet!”
    “Precisely,” said Mrs Allardyce serenely. “And you must admire the white soup, my dears, because Mrs Porton makes it with her very own hands, but do not on any account mention the fact.”
    “Of course,” agreed Tiddy on a weak note.
    “Best bib and tucker, out of course,” she added graciously, sailing from the room.
    And Tiddy broke down in giggles again, owning as she mopped her eyes again: “I do so adore your Mamma, Violet!”
    “Do you? Good,” said Miss Allardyce thankfully. “I am afraid many persons find her, um, irritating, on closer acquaintance.”
    Tiddy had her suspicions that Mademoiselle was beginning to do so, but refrained from saying so, or from laughing again.
    The company at General Porton’s dinner was very select—very select indeed. Though this could have had something to do with the restricted size of the drawing-room.

"Inconveniences of a Crowded Drawing-Room"
Lithograph, hand-coloured, 1818, by George Cruickshank
Courtesy of the Maunsleigh Collection
    There was scarce anybody there below the rank of brigadier, or collector, if from John Company. Or, if a layman, below the rank of baronet. Tiddy was honoured by being seated at dinner between Brigadier Polkinghorne and Major-General Widdop. His brother, Mr Widdop, was on the opposite side of the table. This latter was not an anomaly: Mr Widdop was a collector, on leave from his District. Unfortunately there was little hope that in the course of the evening Tiddy would manage to find some innocent way in which to ask him whether he still held the title deeds of that bungalow his brother was living in and so triumphantly resolve the greatest mystery vexing the joint minds of Darjeeling.
    The Collector was seated between Mrs Allardyce and that Lady Anna Lovatt who was Mrs Matcham’s travelling companion. Lady Anna was a tall, horse-faced woman, handsome if one liked horses, true, who did not appear impressed by the meek-looking Mr Widdop.
    Mlle Dupont had not been flattered with an invitation—though in certain opinions she should have been, since Mrs Allardyce’s other guest had been—and when the girls returned she came into Tiddy’s room and asked who had been there.
    Nandinee Ayah had accompanied Tiddy baba to Darjeeling in spite of all Mademoiselle could do to stop her—though she had later realised thankfully that Violet Allardyce had one, too, and that Mrs Allardyce apparently accepted the thing as normal. She was now busying herself with brushing out Tiddy’s hair and forcing cups of something suspicious-looking on both her and Violet, who had, it might have occurred to anyone less grimly determined and single-minded than Marie-Louise Dupont, quite probably accompanied Tiddy to her room in the hopes of some private girlish chat.
    “One moment. What is that?” she demanded grimly.
    “It’s only jeeruh panee, dear Mademoiselle!” said Violet quickly.
    “She don’t know it. –Like a soup,” said Tiddy kindly. “Um, thin soup, I’ve forgotten the polite word. In French as well,” she admitted lamely.
    Suspiciously Mademoiselle came to sniff it. She recoiled. “That is not bouillon!”
    “It’s harmless. We’re used to it.” Tiddy grasped the cup tightly.
    “Um, we always had it when we were children… I think they only make it out of water and perhaps some onion and—and what is jeeruh?” said Violet lamely to Tiddy.
    “No notion. A spice, Mademoiselle. Looks a little like caraway,” said Tiddy, still gripping the cup tightly.
    “Ce n’est pas—”
    “Um, no, I know. It’s more savoury,” said Tiddy limply.
    “I suppose if I forbid you to drink it, that woman,” she said with an evil glare at the ayah, “will only come back with more when I am gone.”
     “Of course,” agreed Tiddy.
    “Vairy well, then. But I insist on tasting one of these.” Grimly she took a pukkorah from Nandinee’s tray. The girls watched uneasily...
    “Cauliflower at this hour? Unheard! Mon Dieu, I wish I had your digestions,” she muttered. “Vairy well, eat the things if you must, but do not, I beg, complain to me of the belly-ache tomorrow morning.”
    “We won’t,” said Tiddy, grabbing a pukkorah before she could change her mind.
    Sighing, Mademoiselle sat down on a bedside chair. “Sit, if you please, Mlle Violette.”
     Smiling uneasily, Violet sat.
    “So, who was at this so-fine dinner?”
    Exchanging uneasy glances, the girls stumbled through it.
    “That was all?” said Mademoiselle in a stunned voice.
    “Um, yes,” owned Tiddy, “I think so.”
    “But— No young men?”
    “Of course not!” said Tiddy with a sudden loud laugh. “I see! No, no: we were quite safe from all the young fortune-hunters, dear Mademoiselle: there was not a penniless young officer in sight! Let alone a mere Mister!”
    “Um, no,” agreed Violet. “Well, Mr Widdop is a Mister, but then of course he is a collector.”
    “Yes? How old?”
    The girls thought vaguely possibly forty. Or forty-five. Mademoiselle swallowed a sigh, but persisted: “And a widower, non?”
    “Yes; it is a very sad story,” said the kind-hearted Violet.
    “But I can assure you,” added Tiddy sweetly, “that there would be no point in picking him out for either of us. For he is intended for a much bigger fish.”
    Suddenly Violet collapsed in helpless giggles. “I’m so—sorry—Mlle—Dupont!” she gasped. Silently Mademoiselle handed her a pristine handkerchief. “Thank you,” she said weakly, mopping her eyes. “Um, you see, Tiddy said earlier that he was the big fish. Which must explain why she is in Darjeeling at all.”
    “Who?” said Mademoiselle tensely. Because this might at last rule one of them out!
    “Lady Anna Lovatt,” explained Violet.

"Lady Anna L., or, The coup de grâce"
Sketch, pen & wash, from John Widdop's journal, circa 1829.
From the Widdop family papers
     “Eugh—who?” she said limply.
    “Lady Anna Lovatt: Mrs Matcham’s friend: horse-faced but better born than all the rest of them put together,” said Tiddy. “Collector Widdop is reckoned a great catch, at least by General Porton, whose late niece, it appears, was his wife,” she explained primly.
    Violet collapsed in giggles again.
    “The thing is,” said Tiddy, grinning, “although the consensus was, before, that General Porton gave this dinner-party merely to puff off his consequence,”—Violet was in agony—“during, we realised what the ulterior motive was.”
    Violet nodded frantically through her giggles.
    “I see,” said Mlle Dupont heavily.
    Tiddy cocked her head on one side. “It didn’t strike me that Mr Widdop appeared very impressed, though.”
    “Nor—did—she!” gasped Violet.
    “No,” she conceded, the grin appearing again. “Uninterested. Well, half-awake, actually.”
    “Like—horse—asleep—field!” squeaked Violet helplessly.
    Tiddy’s eyes met her and she also collapsed in giggles.
    Sighing, Mlle Dupont got up and left them to it.


    —Ponsonby sahib, you are not becoming tired, are you? No? Then shall we go on? But we warn you, girls, poor Mademoiselle was to continue baffled for some time yet!

    The ladies from the Allardyce House having been honoured with an invitation to tiffin at General Hay’s villa, where his sister Lady Cartwright was playing hostess, Mademoiselle was enabled to ascertain that Mrs Allardyce’s contender was most certainly not she, and nor was it Mrs Fox, a pleasant, plain person of middle age. The party also featured a Captain Lord Alfred Lacey, one of the sons of the Duke of Munn, a man in perhaps his early thirties, at present enjoying the rôle of aide to the General, and a very young, pink-cheeked Lord Frederick Dewhurst, a younger son of the Marquis of Abingdon, ostensibly holding some function at Government House but pretty clearly easily spared by the Governor-General.

"The inane Freddy Dewhurst"
Sketch, pencil & watercolour, from John Widdop's journal, circa 1829.
From the Widdop family papers
    He imparted the interesting news that his master’s post was next due to be held by Lord Auckland, though judging by the expressions on the faces of General Hay and Captain Lord Alfred as he did it perhaps he should not have.
    Not all the ladies of the house party were present, and Mr Hatton most certainly was not, so Mlle Dupont returned home feeling frustrated, the which state Mrs Allardyce’s serenely smiling demeanour did nothing at all to soothe.
    “So who is this Lady Anna Lovatt?” she said on a cross note as her hostess, smiling serenely, removed her much beribboned hat in front of the mirror in the hall.
    “Goodness, that is better!” said Mrs Allardyce, as the shiny, still unsilvered light brown curls were revealed. “I swear, five hundred pins were sticking into my head! I shall have my woman return the thing to Madame Lucille direct. –Has no-one explained to you, dear Mlle Dupont? Lady Anna is little Freddy Dewhurst’s sister: one of Abingdon’s girls.”
    “Oh,” said Mademoiselle lamely. “They are not vairy alike.”
    “No, dear little Freddy does not look like a well-bred Arab steed!” she agreed with the light laugh. “Kamala Ayah,” she said to the salaaming elderly woman who had glided up silently, as Mademoiselle had by now discovered Indian servants were wont to do: “take this horrid hat back to Madame Lucille ekdum: it will not do.”
    The old ayah made a speech in her own language—Mademoiselle did not need to have it translated in order to grasp that its tenor was largely “I told you so”—bowed deeply, and disappeared with the hat.

"Yet another of Mrs Allardyce's appalling hats"
Sketch, pen & wash, from John Widdop's journal, circa 1829.
From the Widdop family papers
    “Well!” said Mrs Allardyce, smiling. “That will serve me out for conscientiously patronising the local tradespeople, will it not? Now, I am sure you are as exhausted as I by all that talk and tiffin, so shall we retire for a little?”
    Resignedly our poor Mlle Dupont went off to her room. Lady Anna Lovatt might or might not be the promised she, for she was not old, if she did look like a horse, and she was certainly well-born, but it was clear that no clarification on the point was about to be offered by the maddening Mrs Allardyce!


Great-Aunt Tiddy’s Receet for Jeeruh Panee
Soak your immalee [tamarind] in a jug of water overnight, then pound well & strain all through a piece of muslin. Add an equal amount of fresh water. Pound your jeeruh [cumin], a good spoonful, with half as much salt and sugar both, a good inch of fresh ginger root, and some generous pinches of spice mix. Add all & stir well. When serving, add the juice of half a nimboo [lime] (lemon will do) & strain.




No comments:

Post a comment

Please add your comment! Or email the Tamasha Cookbook Team at infoteam@senet.com.au